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Heart surgery patients grateful for faster recovery with minimally invasive options

Open heart surgery is not always the answer, and major surgery is not always the only option for patients who require cardiac attention.

Now more than ever before, the Beacon heart team cares for its patient’s hearts by specializing in minimally invasive surgeries that use smaller incisions, require less time in the hospital and get them back on their feet in a shorter amount of time.

The Beacon heart team has over 200 years of combined experience between the heart surgeons and interventional doctors who specialize in treating conditions with wires and catheters if surgery is not suitable or not desirable for the patient.

“The nurses, doctors, surgeons and coordinators on our Beacon heart team are all driven by one mission: to offer the best heart care for our community, in the community, so patients and their families can stay close to home,” said Dr. Mayank Mittal, Beacon Medical Group endovascular and structural interventional cardiologist.

“Previously, patients had to travel hundreds of miles to get these specialized procedures. Our team has over 200 years of combined experience. And we specialize in treating heart conditions with wires and catheters if surgery is not suitable or desirable for the patient. We work together to find the right solution for each patient right here at home.”

Three highly regarded treatment options for heart conditions include: MitraClip, TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement and WATCHMAN™ left appendage closure. We recently spoke with cardiac patients about these three procedures and how they were able to go back to their lives and their loved ones faster.


Garold Greathouse, 78 years young, admits how he doesn’t particularly enjoy working out, but he does it anyway.

“It’s self preservation!” he said with a laugh.

One of the ways he gets exercise is by walking into town. “I live in Buchanan, and it’s really hilly. So when I need to go to town, I’m hoofing it up and down the hills.”

One day back in 2011, Greathouse noticed that the walk was getting more difficult. It got to the point that he had to stop and catch his breath when he was just halfway home.

“That’s how I figured out I was having trouble,” he said.

He would learn from his cardiologist that he had developed congestive heart failure.

Medications did a good job of keeping it under control until his mitral valve, which opens and closes to control the direction of blood flow in the heart, started leaking. A leaky valve doesn’t close properly and it creates a backward flow of blood. That means the heart has to work harder to keep enough blood moving in the right direction.

Beacon cardiologist Dr. Andrew Fiedler recommended the MitraClip, a small device shaped like a miniature clothespin. The cardiologist guides it to the heart through a thin tube and clips it onto the faulty heart valve. The clip helps the valve close more completely, improving blood flow through the heart.

Greathouse had the minimally invasive procedure done in July, spending just one night in Elkhart General Hospital before returning home the very next day.

“When I reported to the hospital, I couldn’t hardly breathe,” Garold said. He would become winded just walking from his living room to the kitchen and back.

And after the MitraClip procedure?

“In the recovery room when I woke up, I could breathe,” he said. “It was that quick.”

After completing six weeks of cardiac therapy, Greathouse is back to walking regularly, taking care of his home and spending most weekends at car shows, where he shows off his ’65 Pontiac.

He’s grateful for the MitraClip treatment option that improved the efficiency of his heart without open heart surgery, which would have meant too much time away from home.

“I tell you what — anybody who’s got a leaky mitral valve, I heartily endorse this procedure,” Greathouse said. “It worked wonders for me.”

TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement)

Matt Traxler

Matt Traxler is as optimistic a guy as you could meet, though he’s had heart issues since he was a baby.

Traxler, who is now 66, was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, which means the valve has only two flaps, or cusps, instead of three, to transport blood to the body. There are no medicines for this defect, only surgery when it is required.

That time arrived about 15 years ago, when Traxler had open heart surgery to correct his congenital heart defect with a replacement valve.

That valve was expected to last about 10 years. It lasted 14.

“Then I developed some breathing issues in the first part of May,” he recalled.

So his Beacon cardiologist Dr. Troy Weirick, and Beacon cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Walter Halloran, scheduled the patient for another aortic valve replacement.

But this time, it did not require open heart surgery.

Traxler underwent a minimally invasive procedure called TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement, at Elkhart General Hospital. During TAVR, doctors use advanced imaging techniques to guide a catheter carrying the new valve though the blood vessels to the old, damaged or diseased aortic valve. The new valve is then expanded into the same space as the old heart valve, pushing the diseased valve flaps aside.

Traxler spent just one night in the hospital before returning to the comfort of his own bed.

“I would give my full recommendation to Dr. Halloran, Dr. Weirick and the team at Elkhart General Hospital,” Traxler said.

After his procedure, Traxler participated in cardiac rehabilitation several times a week.

“I run on a treadmill for a half hour at a pretty good clip, and they’re monitoring my heart the whole time,” he said. “Every day I get a little better. If I run up a complete flight of stairs, I’ll be a little out of breath. Before, I’d have to stop for 15 minutes and just catch my breath.”

His outlook? “I’m going to live forever,” he said.


Frank Moriconi

Frank Moriconi has been seeing a cardiologist for years. His heart was doing well with a pacemaker-defibrillator. That is, until one day when his smartwatch alerted him that he was having fast, irregular heartbeats.

AFib, or atrial fibrillation, can lead to the formation of blood clots in the heart. AFib episodes may not last and are not life-threatening by themselves; however, they can lead to a stroke, so it’s important to treat the condition.

At the same time, Moriconi had also been experiencing fairly severe bleeding in his intestines. Because of that, his primary care physician wanted him to stop taking his blood thinner medication.

This combination of health factors led Beacon cardiologist Dr. Mayank Mittal to recommend the WATCHMAN™ procedure. The WATCHMAN™ implant device closes off a part of the heart where blood clots tend to form, reducing the risk of stroke and eliminating the need for blood thinners.

“WATCHMAN™ is a one-time, minimally invasive procedure that is done in the state-of-the-art cath labs at Memorial Hospital and Elkhart General Hospital. It can reduce the risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation without increasing the risk of bleeding,” Dr. Mittal said. “Most patients go home the same day or next day and return to normal activity right away. Beacon has been doing the procedure for over five years, and the experience and outcomes of our patients is unmatched and beats all the national standards.”

Moriconi had the procedure done at Memorial Hospital on Feb. 8 and returned home the next day.

“My care was great, both from the cardiologist and the staff at the hospital.”

And the recovery afterward was easy, he recalled.

“There wasn’t much recovery time,” Moriconi said. “The doctor suggested I not play golf until May, but there’s not much chance to play golf between February and May in South Bend anyway.”

Barry Kercher has also undergone the WATCHMAN™ procedure to treat AFib.

Kercher’s heart trouble was found when he was getting a physical for work.

At the cardiologist’s office for a full workup, he and his wife spotted a pamphlet for WATCHMAN™ and asked the doctor about it. They particularly liked the idea of being able to stop blood thinners, because he had experienced a three-day nosebleed after nasal surgery.

Beacon cardiologist Dr. Vijay Mehta agreed he would be a good candidate for the procedure, which Dr. Gurudutt Kulkarni performed at Elkhart General Hospital.

“Our health care providers are wonderful,” Kercher said. “The procedure wasn’t a big deal to me. I had complete confidence in the physicians.”

As a busy, energetic person, Kercher said the worst part of the procedure was feeling antsy for a few weeks while he rested.

Today, he said he’s back to normal.

“Everything went just great,” Kercher said. “Personally, I would recommend it, and I have recommended it to some other folks who are having problems. You don’t feel like you’re in pain or anything. You just wake up and it’s there.”

Be mindful of your heart health

Schedule today with a Beacon primary care physician to discuss important cardiovascular screening options. Click here to find a family doctor. Patients who need further care will be referred to a Beacon cardiologist. You can trust our Beacon specialists with your heart health needs.